corruptionwatch: WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
What goes around comes around, so the cliché says. That summarises Grace Mugabe’s situation even as she is mourning her husband, Robert, the former president who passed on last month.
Credible rumour indicates that the government — whatever that means or remains of it — is planning to take away some of the key properties that the Mugabes had managed to accumulate for themselves over the decades. These include Manzou Farm, Smithfield, Arnold and Foyle Estate in prime Mashonaland Central province.
Gushungo Holdings, the former first family’s highlight agro-business entity, is situated on one of the farms, Foyle Estate. If things proceed as per the reported government plan, the once imposing farming business will crumble as predictably as dew would melt away at sunrise.
If you hate Grace strongly enough, taking away four farms is an underestimation of what the government must do. When Mugabe was pushed out of power in late 2017, naughty estimates said his family had managed to accumulate around 15 farms. That figure rose to 20 when the ex-president passed away in early September. And we could still be counting because, quite often, incumbents successfully use hard-to-see proxies.
Numbers aside, the manner in which Grace grabbed the farms is sinful. You will remember the hundreds of poor families that spent wintry months by the roadside after being thrown off Manzou and the other places. As to how many infants died or became permanently diseased because of that hostile exposure, any and every guess is good enough.
Sources of livelihood were lost. Naturally, hundreds of children lost out on their education, meaning the farm grabs by Grace have severely affected the future of those innocent souls. Grace never apologised for doing that. Ironically, she kept what she claimed was an orphanage as if she cared about children. Now, you can commit all the sins cast on the tablet but don’t touch the children. That’s the worst evil you could ever, ever do. So, since Grace did that, she belongs to the scum of the earth.
She is planning to lobby former and current rulers in southern Africa and beyond, so we hear, to stop the seizure of “her” properties. She is right in one sense and wrong in another. Let’s start with the wrong. She now probably owns land the size of Belgium as it is. It then would seem like she wants to maintain that. She must, instead, start by apologising for that humongous selfishness and ask to retain only one of the 20 or so farms.
That’s what Zimbabwean agrarian policy requires and nothing has changed in spite of the sad loss of her husband. Grace can’t be treated as a special case, especially given the bad deeds she did against the most vulnerable people of Zimbabwe when she was first lady.
But then, those emotions aside, the right things must be done to ensure justice. The government would have timed its seizure of Grace’s properties badly right from the start. Reports of the intended seizures are coming hard on the heels of significant events. The death of Mugabe has had a number of dramatic implications.
It seems his successors wanted to use his passing on to cleanse themselves of the tag of illegitimacy that always comes with doing a coup. If Mugabe had been buried at the national Heroes Acre as the successor administration clearly wanted, the likes of President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his lieutenants would have easily claimed that they had preserved the legacy they lied they wanted to restore when they did the coup in November 2017. And, if the Mugabe family had agreed to a state burial, it would have implied that it was okay with the ex-president’s enforced departure.
But things didn’t turn out that way. Grace and the Mugabe family grabbed the coffin and fled to Zvimba for a private burial when Mnangagwa was out of the country. That left the current administration with egg on the face, predictably. So, if the seizure of the farms that the Mugabes had given to themselves — sometimes with a little help from the ones that took over after 2017 — went ahead, that would betray a tendency towards vengeance on the part of the “new” dispensation. Such vindictiveness if often frowned upon. Because it would then appear as if the seizures are motivated by personal feelings than matters of political principle.
That leads to the next point. Government is currently conducting a land audit through the Zimbabwe Land Commission, a constitutional body. While much ground has been covered, the study is still far from over. The cleverest thing to do, then, would be to wait for an official conclusion to the ongoing land audit before action can be taken against the culprits. Everything else is like going for a wedding before courtship. A big absurdity.
In any case, people will start wondering — without being surprised of course — why the government is targeting only Grace now, and only four of the suspected 20 farms. That would sound and look like political targeting. Besides, it’s well known that improvements have been made on those farms. You can check again, but Zimbabwean law permits for compensation for improvements on land it repossesses. Which means that Grace would need to be compensated for the infrastructure she established on those farms.
Failure to do so would have constitutional and statutory implications. Right now government is sweating to raise compensation for the thousands of white farmers who were removed under the fast track land redistribution programme. If you are going to give the goose millet as feed, do the same with the gander.
Even if a judge witnesses a murder first hand, he will still give the accused person his time in the dock. This must happen in Grace’s case. It’s globally undisputed that she has been a bad woman, but the right thing must still be done.
l Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.